Why is there something instead of nothing? In other words: Why does the universe exist (and why are we in it)? Philosopher and writer Jim Holt follows this question toward three possible answers. Or four. Or none.
Jim Holt – Philosopher and Writer
Why does the universe exist? Why is there — Okay. Okay. This is a cosmic mystery. Be solemn. Why is there a world, why are we in it, and why is there something rather than nothing at all? I mean, this is the super ultimate “why” question?
So I’m going to talk about the mystery of existence, the puzzle of existence, where we are now in addressing it, and why you should care, and I hope you do care. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that those who don’t wonder about the contingency of their existence, of the contingency of the world’s existence, are mentally deficient. That’s a little harsh, but still.
So this has been called the most sublime and awesome mystery, the deepest and most far-reaching question man can pose. It’s obsessed great thinkers. Ludwig Wittgenstein, perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, was astonished that there should be a world at all. He wrote in his “Tractatus,” Proposition 4.66, “It is not how things are in the world that is the mystical, it’s that the world exists.”
And if you don’t like taking your epigrams from a philosopher, try a scientist. John Archibald Wheeler, one of the great physicists of the 20th century, the teacher of Richard Feynman, the coiner of the term “black hole,” he said, “I want to know how come the quantum, how come the universe, how come existence?” And my friend Martin Amis — sorry that I’ll be doing a lot of name-dropping in this talk, so get used to it — my dear friend Martin Amis once said that we’re about five Einsteins away from answering the mystery of where the universe came from. And I’ve no doubt there are five Einsteins in the audience tonight. Any Einsteins? Show of hands? No? No? No? No Einsteins? Okay.